One of the things I spend time doing, explaining and reiterating with myself, as well as my clients with and without children, is emotional intelligence. If there’s anything that gets in the way of living a full, rich, and meaningful life, it’s our experience with our emotions. The ability to gain emotional intelligence is a key skill in allowing us to truly understand ourselves and our reactions to events around us, because those are the only things we can really control – ourselves and our reactions. As we enter a new school year and support the children in our lives with the changes that inevitably come with it, I am sharing a few key concepts related to emotional intelligence as a starting point for a successful year.
Emotional Intelligence is briefly discussed here by its popular advocate and author – Dr. Daniel Goleman. One of the first things he says is that Emotional Intelligence is that it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships.
Then, he lists 4 domains that create emotional intelligence:
Self awareness – knowing what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
Self management – handling distressing emotions in an effective way so that they don’t cripple you & tuning into them for what they can teach you – because even though they aren’t fun, they still serve a purpose and it’s okay to explore what that purpose is.
Empathy – knowing what someone else is feeling.
Social Interaction Skills – Putting it all together as a skill in significant relationships.
He then talks about how the part of our brain that allows us to do this is the part that grows the slowest – chronologically and developmentally – in our brains. He then goes on to talk about neuroplasticity which is basically the flexible nature of the brain as an organ. He mentions that our brains develop based on repeated experiences and he uses that as the foundation to encourage us to talk about self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skills with kids at early ages and in systematic ways.
There are a number of books that have helped revolutionize parenting in this respect and they have been really helpful to me, personally and professionally. One of the struggles in parenting that I have seen with other parents and caregivers is the habit we have of associating our ability to make sense of the world to our children’s abilities to do the same thing in the same way. On our lesser days, it can be frustrating when they don’t act like the little adults that many of us may have been raised to be when we were kids! Yet, when we remember Goleman’s words, we can remind ourselves that neurotypical children’s brains are not developmentally capable of verbally articulating the four concepts outlined above if they aren’t taught to recognize what the 4 concepts feel like and helped to identify when they are feeling any of the four concepts. That is our job as the adult in a child’s life.
The important thing that has helped me, the parents, and caregivers that I work with has been to understand that our kids feel a lot of things – good and bad – that they struggle to explain to us in words. Again, our job as parents, is to help them gain the vocabulary to do so. However, we can’t teach them what we don’t know or haven’t personally experienced, so it’s important that we practice becoming aware of our own emotional experiences, managing them, practicing empathy, and enhancing our social skills in the relationships that matter most to us, especially with the people who depend on us for guidance and support.
Emotional intelligence is probably the coolest thing to have in our backpacks as we head into the new school year! Find ways that you can sharpen your skillset and pass your understanding on to your kids by modeling healthy steps towards emotional intelligence.
You can hear the kids now, “I’m boooooorrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeddddddd.” And instantly, your anxiety levels begin to rise. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids came home from the end of the school year and built cocoons for 2.5 months before emerging as beautiful, colorful, next graders? Instead, they come home and any semblance of sanity we had begins to drift away when that last day of “school” (aka the 90 minute “day” that proves someone in the district scheduling office needs a best friend named Basket of Chocolate covered Fruit) ends.
So how do you have a sane summer with a full household? Here are a few ideas that have helped me and that I hope will help you.
Be aware of kids’ needs to simply decompress..
School has been a big year for them whether it’s their kindergarten or senior year. They may want to veg out and do nothing (teens) or they may have anxious excess energy to burn just because (elementary school). Our role as parents it to observe what our kids need and provide them access to meeting their need.
Learn how your kid decompresses.
Depending on their age and developmental stage, your child’s need for stimulation will vary. As parents, we are responsible to help meet their stimulation needs. My favorite resource for understanding the energy level of my kids is “Fire Child, Water Child” which I’ve written about here– it’s one of the best holistic approaches to attention and activity challenges in the school and family setting. I know that I have an earth child and a wood/fire child. I’m a water child and each of our elements feed into and feed off of each other. Learning about my kids’ needs and how it impacts my own needs helps me help them engage and relax. Teaching our kids what balance is will help them value it as part of a healthy life style.
Involve the family!
I’ve found that the best way to do this is to discover an activity that each of my kids might like and then as a family, work together on the activity. This way each individual person gets something that’s just for them and the family gets the experience of creating something for their loved one. Last summer, we made Lego Calm Down jars – you can find the information here – and my kids enjoyed the hours we spent talking about the activity, getting supplies for the activity, completing the activity and sharing the results with our friends. Involving your kids in the process from start to finish will take a bit longer than if you just did it yourself, however, this is actually part of disciplining your kid without drama. Discipline them to become a certain kind of person because of the relationship they have with you. This relationship is built in the activities you complete together just as much as the teaching and instructing we do in moments.
Don’t forget about the parents!
One thing I’ve worked on as a parent is understanding that my needs are as valid as my kids’ needs. My regulation is as important and necessary as their regulation. So when I do activities with them, I have them create activities with me too. I enjoy coloring and painting, so I have an easel for myself and each of my kids in our basement and we spend time painting. We each have our own coloring books and pencils, so we spend time coloring. When parents are balanced, we can teach our kids about balance.
When all else fails – and there will be those days – go for what’s easy.
My other go-to, when I’m not in my calm, regulated, trying to be Zen Mom mode is right here. It will give you about 45 minutes of peace until you can either find an escape or the strength to try again.
If you answered “yes” to that question, you’re not alone. Thoughts may come and go like clouds in the sky, and emotions may change like the weather, but when a thought storm comes rolling in, it can feel overwhelming, stifling, and paralyzing. In those moments, it is helpful to remember the following:
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to fear. It puts your body into “fight or flight” mode and it is completely legitimate to feel a fear response to a real or perceived threat.
Tuning into your body’s fear response is the only thing you can control and it’s the first thing you’ll want to attempt. Your brain can’t function and help you dial back your fear response if your body is readying itself for a fight or a sprint.
When you experience anxiety, check to see if you are in current danger or if you are worried about potential danger. Then adjust your response. If you are in current danger, get to a place of safety. If you are worried about potential danger, begin a calming process to help yourself understand what it is you’re worried about and why.
Pay attention to your breathing. When we are in fight or flight mode, our breathing changes to rapid, shallow breaths to help us move quickly in defense of our safety. Once we reach a place of safety, our breathing changes to slower, deeper breaths to help our system calm itself and return to a baseline of normal functioning. How do you breathe when you are anxious? If you can recognize your breathing and mindfully work to slow it, you will begin to calm yourself in the process.
So what do we do with our thoughts? We treat them like clouds passing in the sky, like pieces of the weather patterns in our lives. We treat them like cars on the freeway. We watch them come and we watch them go. We recognize that some thoughts will make our breathing rate increase and others will help it decrease. We realize that our thoughts are powerful but they are not the only reality we can choose to believe. We see our thoughts for what they are, ongoing experiences and commentary about our lives. Like radio static in the background or elevator music when you’re placed on hold during a phone call. Thoughts are present but they do not have to always be overwhelming or overpowering when we are able to remember that they change as frequently as the clouds in the sky. As we learn to watch the shape that our thoughts form, we can give our thoughts permission to change without taking us along for the ride. In doing this, we give ourselves permission to observe the process without becoming overwhelmed by or hooked into it. It takes practice and it takes awareness to get into the habit of observing your thoughts as thoughts on the stage of your reality. It is one of the most helpful ways to assist you in managing your relationship with anxiety.
New Year’s resolutions are the best and worst ideas all rolled into one. They can put us in a place of judgment, blame, and fear just as much as they can help us feel hope, energy, and commitment…. Until we mess up on all some of them within the first month and we’re back in the judgment, blame, and fear cycle again. As we get settled into 2016, I’ve decided that there are a few ways to commit to making healthy changes that won’t get old and won’t be derailed if (when) you forget.
Don’t be the “new you”, just be you…
Make small changes in small ways…
Don’t be the “new you”– just be you
Whenever there is a chance to start something new (a new day, a new week, a new month, or a new year) many of us feel motivated to make big changes in our lives. We want a “new” year and a bright and shiny “new” us. While the intention to want to be a new person is tempting, it’s also something that can promote shame because it says that there was something deficient about the “old” you – and that’s just not true. There wasn’t anything wrong with you in 2015. We’re always doing the best we can with what we have and what we know at the time. So, instead of having a new you, just be you and do life in a different way. You’re the same you, and you’re approaching new (and old) situations in a different way this year.
Make small changes in small ways
Along with doing things differently, we want to do EVERY thing differently, and quickly, so that we can make the biggest changes in the fastest time frame. We tend to want instant change overnight, yet none of what we want to change got that way overnight! This is also unhelpful and a recipe for shame because it implies that unless you can change everything all at once, and do so perfectly, then it’s not a good enough change or you’re not working hard enough. Let that go! It’s important to know that big changes start small. We find our way to successful change by designing a realistic approach. And small is very realistic. It lowers stress and anxiety by being manageable. Maybe what you think of as “starting small” doesn’t work on the first try. Guess what? That’s fine. In fact, a hiccup like that usually happens because your task needs to be a little smaller than your first approach in order to work. So start smaller on the second try, or the third, or the tenth until you get to a place where you find success, even if it’s small success.
Every day is a new day whether it’s January or or a Monday in November. Because of that, it’s never too late to change the relationship you have with you life by being you in a different way and making small, simple changes to create a life that matters deeply to you.
I speak with my students about vital signs and vital living when we talk about happiness. When we go to the doctor, they take our vital signs – heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration – to see if we are living beings. This is what checks our vitality on the surface. Our vital signs say nothing about how full, rich, or meaningful we feel about how life and how our life can or how we believe it “should” be.
We talk about how there is “feeling happy” and there is “living happily” and many of us often struggle with living happily if we aren’t feeling happy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been one of the best ways I’ve seen my clients – and myself! – shift from feeling to living. One of the most powerful quotes that I came across about the idea of being happy is that it is a feeling like any other feeling – joy, anger, disgust, fear, sadness, etc. It doesn’t last forever. And you can almost feel the collective gasp of humanity if someone has the audacity to believe that you can’t be happy forever! We all know that *one* person who seems to always be happy no matter what, but is it that they are happy regardless of the circumstance or are they living their life happily because they include the ups and the downs and the lefts and the rights?
As parents, the ability to talk with our kids about race can be very challenging. Over the summer, I had a chance to talk with KSL Radio about the term “transracial” as it related to a popular story of the fallout and national conversation about race, when a white woman chose to identify as a black woman for professional and personal reasons. In the radio interview I addressed the term transracial as an adoption term only and I discussed the history of “Passing” in a America. What I didn’t get a chance to talk about (because we only had 2 minutes) was how to help parents of children who may hear about being transracial and feel that they, too, identify with another cultural or ethnic group outside of their own.
Click the link below to listen to LaShawn Schultz talk with KSL Radio
Parents may wonder how to address it or whether to ignore it and hope it passes like a rebellious taste in music. You don’t have to be a scholar about race relations in America in order to talk to your child about racial identity. What you do have to be aware of is the relationship you have with your child and the reality of identity development in the life of an adolescent. Adolescence can be a trying time both for the tweenager, the teenager, and their parents and caregivers. This is because identity and the ability to explore it is in a full fledged developmental process. Identity itself is a lifelong process that only begins in adolescence. Our goal in parenting through change is to help our kids navigate the questions that arise from their crises.
While racial identity development is a separate experience reserved for the lived experience from birth of a specific racial or ethnic identity, the discussion of feeling a connection and kinship to a racial group that is not part of your own and only experienced in a social interactions is different. The ability of parents to remember and do the following 3 things will help keep your connection to your child as durable as it is flexible.
Recognize that a “crisis” is not a bad thing, it is simply an unanswered question or series of questions. It’s okay to explore questions with your child because this builds critical thinking skills.
Realize that your child bringing the unanswered question to you is as much a compliment as it is a hearing test. Your child wants to know if you’ll hear them and listen when they talk.
While your child cannot change their racial identity, the relationship you have with them is what will change as you use your ability to talk with them as an emotional connection point. Connection is what allows you to talk with them about race as a social construct and get underneath their questions to reach the desire for emotion and validation that is fueling the questions about their identity in the first place.
The three things are the foundation of your relational connection to your child and will make a big difference in your relationship with them all because of your willingness to understand them.
One of the things I have learned about the most as a parent of multicultural kids is the importance of being mindful and staying in the moment. This isn’t the easiest thing to do and yet, it’s one of the best things to do. You’ll see lots of parents blogging about how they’ve stopped yelling or stopped using their electronic devices as a way to be more mindful and present with their kids. Being mindful has its benefits in that it allows you to pay attention in the moment and, as parents, to use the moment to create meaningful connection with our kids.
As a multicultural parent, the same goal applies when being mindful in those quick moments of questioning that kids give us ever so often. When it comes to addressing cultural differences, many times we experience a hesitation that is just quick enough to send a message to our kids that “we don’t talk about differences.” And, in our not-so-great moments, we scold our kids for asking an age or developmentally appropriate question based on our own discomfort around differences.
When we are mindful we can create teaching moments in response to our kids’ curiosity by engaging in the present moment as it’s happening. There is a balance to doing this because you want to do it in a way that intentionally educates, demystifies, and normalizes differences so that you can connect with your child comfortably and confidently.
“Boundaries can be understood as processes of contact and exchange,
moments of knowing, and movement, and growth.” Judith V. Jordan
Knowing how to set healthy boundaries is an important part of living a life where you feel honest with yourself because you are able to interact honestly with others. This isn’t a skill that comes with all of us into life. This isn’t a skill we learn in our formative years either.
We learn it, oftentimes, through experiences of pain and trauma, both emotional and physical. Because of our experiences, we learn to have boundaries. Because of our experiences, we also gain the tough challenge of doing 3 life-altering things:
Learning to value ourselves;
Actively creating our identity;
Balancing the ways we share our personal space.
Often times we are expected to share our personal space without regard to personal needs because of our roles in life – such as our families, our friends, our occupations or hobbies, our roles as as parents, siblings, spouses, or relatives.
Do you feel that you have a fire child? Parents of children identified as suffering from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) sometimes do. They may wish that their child was more identified with the properties of water – seemingly calm and serene.
Dr. Stephen Scott Cowan, in his book “Fire Child, Water Child: How Understanding the 5 types of ADHD can help you improve your child’s self-esteem & attention” encourages parents, as well as practitioners, to view their ADHD-identified child as one of the “five primal powers described in Chinese medicine as Wood, Fire,Earth, Metal, and Water” (p. v). The first line of the introduction in Cowan’s book, “ADHD is a symptom, not a disease,” sets the tone for the remainder of the book.
He explains that caregiver interactions with children identified as ADHD are less successful when they come from a place of fear. Fear uses words like “something is wrong with my kid,” or “what can you do to fix him/her?” While Cowan admits that the ability to pay attention in class is definitely a problem, he disagrees that it is the problem and it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with a child. He shares how focusing on the problems a child exhibits will bring up feelings of judgment, guilt, and fear for both the child and the caregivers in his or her life. He instead chooses to direct the reader’s attention to what they ultimately want to see the child experience in the school setting: success. He suggests that we can learn to develop a “sense of compassion for the diverse ways in which we engage with the world” and recognize “the qualities each child has to offer” (p. 1) in attempts to manage the natural gifts of a child’s personality. When we embrace and nurture these natural gifts, they can become strengths that aid in improving focus for the classroom setting.
What are the natural gifts of a child’s personality? Usually these are the behaviors that teachers observe in the school setting that are discussed in parent-teacher conferences and lead to a visit to the pediatrician’s office for a medical assessment. Behaviors such as being always on the move, active, easily frustrated (wood child); overly social, class clown, mood swings, impulsivity (fire child); worried or indecisive when stressed by the environment (earth child); difficulty shifting out of routine or moving from task to task (metal child); daydreaming, easily distracted and hard to keep on task (water child).
Dr. Cowan maps out the path toward improving attention so that children can enjoy school and function effectively at home. He enlists the support and love of parents and caregivers who have control over the home environment to create the first influences that can be shared with other caregivers and teachers to maintain behaviors in the structured school setting. Dr. Cowan’s goal to educate and empower parents, caregivers, and teachers to understand the ways of holistically viewing their children through the 5 primal elements is clear – when we validate the qualities that children possess, we can bring them in tune with their world and help them learn the self-regulation skills necessary for success.
Whether your child is diagnosed with ADHD or not, the qualities that make them unique can sometimes contribute to struggles in the school setting. Utilizing Cowan’s 5 Types of ADHD may help you learn to embrace these qualities and identify strategies to nurture them to the benefit of your child’s ability to focus. Additional skills for focusing in the classroom can only lead to good things. As we transition into the end of the school year, this summer may be a great time to tune in with your child and create a path for improved focus and success at home as well as school!
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